Cat Power & Dirty Delta Blues – TheVine.Com.Au: Theatre Royal (PRESS, AUSTRALIA)

22 January 2009
Review of Cat Power & Dirty Delta Blues at the Theatre Royal, Perth, Australia on 22 January 2011.
“Tobias Cummings
Theatre Royal, Castlemaine
Saturday 22th January 2011

More often used for movies than concerts, Theatre Royal in the lovely Victorian town of Castlemaine lent a regal air to Cat Power’s appearance a day after her Melbourne gig. There was a full bar on offer, as well as ice cream and pizza, and the expansive beer garden was packed tight with revellers before the acts commenced. A balcony of seats overlooked a large ground floor of standing room, and the lofty architecture offered much space through which the music could travel.

Support act Tobias Cummings took the stage with just a guitar, eschewing the baroque production of his recent second album and full-band arrangements of his first. Singles from both followed – ‘The Judge’ and ‘Sunny Disposition’, respectively – but the standout of the shortish set was a cover of Kanye West’s acerbic ‘Runaway’. However, not a lot of punters were inside to hear it.

The sold-out venue had of course filled out by the time Cat Power’s Chan Marshall emerged an hour later. Dressed sharply yet casually in all black, with her hair in a ponytail, Marshall played guitar and sang alone for the first song. A perfect way to start, it was her transformative take on the Stones’ ‘Satisfaction’, broken wide open and given amazing new warmth and phrasing. Joined by her steady backing quartet – the Blues Explosion’s Judah Bauer on guitar, the Dirty Three’s Jim White on drums, Gregg Foreman on organ and guitar, and Erik Paparazzi on bass – Marshall then sang ‘Good Woman’ in a starkly different arrangement than the one heard on 2003’s You Are Free.

From there, Cat Power’s 90-minute set was largely a showcase for new material. So new, in fact, that there was considerable jamming and placeholder endings. That said, it was an honour to hear Marshall’s first batch of originals since 2006. The eight or nine new tunes were similar in how they tended towards slow builds and noisy climaxes. Haunting and at times, heavy, with lingering lyrics (“Your money’s like a weapon”; “Never was a religious figure”) and low-key stretches. Marshall had lyrics for some on a stand; expressive with her arms during one new number, a far cry from the on-stage discomfort of her early years. She mostly sang in that beloved, breathy voice while her ensemble played like a high-brow bar band, peppering the stormy rock with gospel, soul, blues, and old R&B.

There were older songs as well. Marshall sang the Billie Holiday cover ‘Don’t Explain’ from Jukebox and later found a great match in Jackson Browne’s classic ‘These Days’ – made famous by Nico – from which she transitioned into the Jukebox original ‘Song to Bobby’. There was church-y organ on the live staple ‘Making Believe’, well-sung Spanish lyrics for the one-time Eartha Kitt tune ‘Angelitos Negros’, and a devastating reading of ‘The Greatest’. While the band jammed through a new song, Marshall waved goodbye and gathered flowers from the stage to toss to audience members. Prompted by a monster solo from Judah Bauer, she introduced the players before closing with ‘Metal Heart’, a Moon Pix entry she recorded in Melbourne well over a decade ago. Appropriate to the rest of the set, it hit a more rocking point that’s absent from the album version.

Despite a long tease, there was no encore. But one wasn’t necessary after absorbing the cool, cathartic songs that should form the bulk of the next Cat Power record.

Doug Wallen”